Exploring Phnom Penh’s architecture by cyclo
There’s some interesting architecture in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Anything from Chinese temples and French colonial buildings to the post-independence works of Vann Molyvann.
Khmer Architecture Tours offers guided tours through the city, that explore and explain some of the most fascinating architectural sights of the city.
I took part in one of these tours today. And even though I’ve been to Phnom Penh numerous times, it was actually the first time I’ve taken a cyclo. I have to say the ride was very pleasant (though probably more for me than for the cyclo driver).
The good thing about the Phnom Penh architecture tours is that you get to see some monuments that are easily overlooked: an old Christian church, for instance, that Cambodian squatters have subdivided into dozens of private dwellings. They have built walls and ceilings inside and created living quarters for entire families. Only rarely do you see a pillar or an arch up above, proving that this really once was the interior of a church. Outside, the church is also hardly recognizable any more because additional houses have been pasted on to its outer walls.
The poorer people of the city desparately need living space, so they’ve built add-ons and lean-to’s just about anywhere they could find space. They’ve converted balconies and galleries to extra rooms, forever changing the facades of many buildings. And they’ve built additional rooms and houses in former courtyards and gardens.
That’s understandable from the point of view of those who desperately need a place to live. Yet on the other hand, it’s also disfigured many an architectural monument in Phnom Penh. And some of them may soon be lost forever.
If you’d like to see more of what New Khmer Architecture can look like, you may want to check out this album of architecture photos I took in Phnom Penh in recent years.